The lives of Palestinians under occupation have long since been considered cheap, and their dignity has long since been trampled, but now Israel regards their private property as abandoned. This isn't a new phenomenon, but it has recently been made much worse.
Everywhere throughout the occupied territories the picture repeats itself: demolished houses; shops either broken, burned or shuttered; smashed cars; and factories shut down for months.
While it may be possible to explain the damage that resulted from the fighting, it is very difficult to justify large-scale destruction of private property outside the combat zones. The impression is that no consideration was taken into account of the significance of the terrific damage done to homes and places of employment.
Typical of this is the case of the Friends Restaurant, owned by Isa Ma'ali from the Deheisheh refugee camp. Ma'ali, the son of refugees from the destroyed village of Jura in the Judean hills, had a restaurant near the main IDF position at the entrance to Bethlehem, Checkpoint 300. For seven years, thousands of Palestinian workers visited the restaurant on their way to and from jobs in Israel, mostly buying drinks, sandwiches and cigarettes. No fewer than 20 people made their living from the restaurant, including Ma'ali's 11 children and grandchildren. Two years ago, reservists beat one of his children, Rami, who spent his summer school vacations selling canned drinks for a shekel. His hand was broken. The story was told in these pages at the time. A soldier was given a suspended sentence of 28 days. Rami was then a skinny 13 year old and his father says he hasn't recovered since, despite psychological treatment; he still suffers from frequent anxiety attacks.
During the IDF invasion of Bethlehem in Operation Defensive Shield, the restaurant was closed, and like all the residents of the city, Ma'ali lived under curfew for 38 straight days. Two weeks ago, a day before the curfew was lifted, a Palestinian woman who had passed the restaurant called Ma'ali to tell him his restaurant had been destroyed. I visited him at the weekend. There's nothing left of Friends Restaurant. IDF bulldozers demolished it completely, together with two cement block factories next door, leaving only an empty lot. All the property inside the restaurant, particularly the kitchen equipment and the stores of cigarettes and drinks, was crushed under the bulldozer. The remains can be found in the dust of the rubble. Ma'ali estimates the damage at NIS 150,000. He says he doesn't understand why they didn't at least let him know in advance of the demolition plans, so he could have removed the valuables.
The IDF Spokesman did not respond to questions about this affair in time for publication. Presumably, the restaurant and the two factories next door were demolished because of their proximity to the checkpoint, and the need to "expose" the area. But two other nearby buildings, a lot closer to the checkpoint, were left standing. They belong to the church. The IDF was in no hurry to demolish them, apparently because of their owners. But when it comes to the private property of the son of refugees, the IDF has no compunctions. Maybe they thought he was used to it. After all, his parents' fields in Jura were turned into abandoned property in 1948.
Ma'ali, of course, is not the only one who lost his livelihood in this manner. All that's left of the Al Aqsa restaurant, on the second floor of a Jenin office building, is charred remains. The neighbors say it was destroyed only because of the name (the IDF Spokesman has yet to respond to that, as well). At the Dir Sharaf checkpoint at the entrance to Nablus, a large stone masonry shop has been closed for months because of the checkpoint. The roads leading to Tul Karm, Qalqilyah and Jenin are lined with hundreds of shops, some demolished, that stand empty because the IDF doesn't let anyone approach them. The same is true for many of the shops of Hebron and Bethlehem. Dozens of industrial factories have been closed, whether by direct order from the army because of their location, or because the workers can't get to them.
How exactly will the Palestinians make their living? In addition to the sieges and closures, which prevent work in Israel, there is now this destruction, which deprives those Palestinians who still had work inside their own areas any chance of a decent livelihood. An open, thriving Friends Restaurant, which provided a livelihood for its owners, is much less a security risk than a demolished restaurant and an owner thrown into the street. The tens of thousands of hungry and unemployed people left as a result of these actions will be far more of a risk to Israel than the security reasons and excuses given for depriving them of their livelihood.
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